AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – UMass Amherst is preparing to vaccinate all 20,000 undergraduate students following an outbreak of meningitis.This is something that UMass trains for each year, but hasn’t had to do in a real-world situation since the 2009 outbreak of Swine Flu.Meningitis is a potentially deadly bacterial infection. There are two confirmed cases at UMass and more may be carrying the bacteria.
“This bacteria exists as a carrier state mostly and it occasionally causes disease,” explained Dr. George Corey, the Executive Director of UMass University Health Services. “So for every case there could be many carriers who will never become ill.” CDC testing shows the two sick students, who did not know each other, had the same genetic virus which suggests that others who don’t show symptoms may have have the bacteria dormant in their body. That’s why UMass is holding their first of four mass vaccination clinics Thursday inside the Student Union. “There’s a good chance or a worrisome chance that someone else could get ill,” said UMass Public Health Nurse Ann Becker. “The illness is severe enough that we really don’t to see any of our students get this, not one, one more is too many.”
Becker recommends students avoid sharing food, drinks, and close contact, and to wash your hands. “I am certainly worried. I’ve been paying attention to e-mails,” said UMass undergraduate student Matthew Williams. “I personally have not gotten the shot but a lot of my friends have so I think it’s in everyone’s minds across campus.” UMass wants you to know this vaccine is different than the meningitis vaccine you were required to get before you enrolled. UMass will bill your insurance, so there should be no out of pocket cost. So far, UMass has vaccinated 1,500 students. Faculty and staff are not considered at risk. As for the two students who already have meningitis, UMass health officials would only say they are getting positive updates.